Government launches latest DAB plan, UKRD calls it a “shambles”

By | Published on Tuesday 3 July 2012

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A new government document on plans to switch off FM radio services and force everyone onto the digital DAB networks has been dismissed as a “total waste of time and energy” by the boss of one of the UK’s smaller radio companies.

As much previously reported, plans to phase out FM and make DAB the principle radio network in the UK have divided the industry, with some arguing that the digital network simply isn’t ready to take over from FM, and that anyway it will become redundant before it has ever really taken off, as internet radio technologies develop. Others remain convinced that DAB is the future, and would like the switch over to happen sooner rather than later, because operating concurrent analogue and digital broadcasts for the same services is expensive.

One issue, however, is the slow uptake of digital radio by the public. Research reckons just under 30% of radio listening is “digital”, though that stat includes online and TV-based listening as well as DAB, so is slightly misleading. And, anyway, 30% usage isn’t enough to enable government to force a digital-only era onto the listening public (even if digital listening is growing more rapidly of late).

As the debate rumbles on as to if and when a digital switchover may be possible, the government’s Communications Minister Ed Vaizey has just published a Memorandum Of Understanding between various stakeholders in the radio industry, including DAB operators MuxCo and Arqiva, and radio groups BBC, Global, Bauer and UTV, that sets out plans to further expand the digital network so that it can fully replace FM.

Launching the memo, Vaizey said yesterday: “This is a positive and significant step forward for the future of digital radio in the UK. As more and more listeners make the switch to digital, it’s vital that we keep on increasing the areas able to receive a digital signal. Government, the BBC and the commercial operators are working together to ensure this happens”.

However, the boss of UKRD says the latest document is a fudge that won’t work because none of the signatories to it are legally bound to do what the agreement says. William Rogers, a vocal critic of all things DAB, told reporters: “We have been waiting for this for months and months and all we get is a meaningless piece of paper devoid of any serious commitment to the necessary funding required or any sensible strategy to deliver certainty to this whole local DAB shambles”.

He continued: “Even the Government is not prepared to commit to the necessary funding for the local DAB roll out beyond 2017 at the very time when it would need to be delivered. This is a complete shambles and it makes it less likely that either operators or motor manufacturers will have any confidence at all that this is likely to proceed”.

Finally, he said: “The Department of Culture, Media & Sport has elevated the shambolic strategic planning of the local radio sector to an art form and it beggars belief that this has been published as a serious proposition. This is shambolic, ill-considered and utterly meaningless. More uncertainty, not less and even more proof, if we haven’t already had enough, that the government is incapable of managing this process competently”.